A unicorn standing in a field of butterflies.
A fairy jumping off a dock into a mountain lake.
Two boys and two girls and a monkey playing football.
If you asked me to draw any of these scenes, my reaction would be something along the lines of, “Of course not. I’m terrible at drawing!”
But if you ask my six-year-old daughter to draw any of them, she’ll grab some markers and paper and get right to work.
While I like to think she’s a rather good artist, the reality is that she’s probably just about as good as you might expect a six-year-old who draws a lot to be. And I believe that her drawing skills have little to do with her willingness to draw just about anything.
So how did we get to this point where I judge myself so harshly and shy away from most drawing challenges while my little girl jumps right in?
I can think of three relevant factors:
In my last post, I offered some ideas for how to set effective New Years Resolutions. Although there are many folks out there who question the value of setting resolutions at all, I couldn’t help myself. I love the idea of a fresh start and a new opportunity to do a little bit better for myself and my family.
I did make some resolutions this year, and much to my great surprise, I’m still committed to them a week later. I know, this may not sound like much, but in the past I haven’t lasted much longer than a couple of weeks. (According to unsubstantiated statistics I have read in numerous online articles, only about 8% of Americans keep their resolutions.)
Several things have helped me stay focused on the changes I want to make, including some of the ideas I shared in my previous post. But there is one other thing I’m doing differently this year that helps me stay focused more than anything else: I’m tracking my resolutions with my daughters.
We each created a chart with four practices we want to work on. Each morning we review our charts as a reminder of what we want to try to accomplish during the day, and each night we talk about how the day went and give ourselves stickers and stars as appropriate.
As I think about it, there are several reasons why this seems to be working so well:
I recently came across a Facebook meme that said, “You only get one chance to raise your kids right.”
My gut reaction to this post was, “Ugh. Well, I’ve already screwed that one up. Forget the college fund. I need to start a therapy fund.” The truth is that I get frustrated with my daughters, I snap at them, and yes, I have even been known to hide from them. (Only in the bathroom, and not for long, but yes, I was hiding.) I’m assuming that most of this does not count as raising my kids right.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing that crazy monkey who likes to bounce around inside my head, flinging his crap at every opportunity. I took a moment to shut him up, and then I thought about this idea that we only get one shot at this whole parenting thing.
And I decided it’s not true.
I really wanted to go.
I’ve wanted to go to this retreat for three years. It happens in late August every year in Northern California, and it’s led by two experienced and amazing mindfulness teachers.
It’s six days long. When you add in a day on each end for cross-country travel and a day to visit my family and editors nearby, that’s nine days.
I’ve never been away from my girls for nine straight days.
My husband is incredibly supportive; every year he tells me I should go. He tells me he’ll be fine with the girls, and I know he’s right. He’ll be more than fine. He’ll be great. The girls will mostly be great. Except for when the toll of Mama being away so long starts to wear on them, as it does on me.
My girls are 4 and 5.5 this year. I decided they were old enough, so I checked the refund policy and signed up for the retreat.
I was excited. Thrilled. And completely ambivalent. I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t a good idea, that I would be away for too long.
My five-year-old daughter flipped out this morning when she learned that she needed to get a blood test. While I’m not a big fan of tearful wailing at 8:00 AM, I have to admit that flipping out is a perfectly reasonable response to the thought of having a complete stranger stick a needle in your arm. Especially when you’re just five years old.
We’ve been through our fair share of flip-outs, and they usually end with some variation of either snuggles or shouts (from both of us), but this time I tried something new. Perhaps it’s because I actually got eight hours of sleep last night, or perhaps it’s because I’m working on a new book about teaching mindfulness to children, but I actually had an idea.
Earlier this morning, my daughter has asked me if I had meditated after I woke up, and it just so happens that I had, so I knew meditation was on her mind. As she sat at the dining room table, sobbing into her cereal, I told her that one reason I meditate is so I can practice choosing my thoughts, so I can get better at keeping the ones I want and getting ride of the ones I don’t.
Once again, a few weeks have gone by since I’ve updated the blog. And once again, it’s because I’ve been happily buried in book projects. In addition to Parenting in the Present Moment. It’s currently available for pre-order, and I’m setting up my book tour for next fall and winter now. If you’re interested in having me come speak about mindfulness, parenting, and how to stay focused on what really matters, please be in touch!
In addition, I’ve just begun work on my next book, which will explore how to teach mindfulness to children, with a focus on concrete activities, practices, and tools that parents can use with their kids at home.
The book, tentatively titled, “Stop, Drop, and Breathe: How to Help your Child Focus, Slow Down, and Calm Down Before You Both Have a Total Meltdown,” will differ from other books on the topic in two important ways: First, not only is it intended for parents who want to teach mindfulness to their kids, but it’s going to be based on the experiences and expertise of parents who are already doing it! Many of the current books about mindfulness for children draw from activities and practices used in classrooms and clinics, and while that work is incredibly important, it’s also quite different from the experiences of parents trying to do this stuff at home with their own children.
In addition, the book will not only provide parents with specific ideas to use at home, but it will also encourage parents to learn to identify and build on moments and sources of mindfulness that already exist in their lives. While I certainly believe there are many wonderful ways to teach children to pay attention with acceptance, I also believe the most effective ways are the ones that arise naturally in the course of our children’s daily lives.
The book will be published by New Harbinger Publications in the fall of 2015.
I have already completed a number of interviews with parents, but I am looking for more parents to learn from! If you would like to participate in an email …
One of the core ideas of mindfulness is acceptance. When we adopt a mindful stance towards life, we make a conscious choice to accept whatever is happening in the moment without judging it or wishing it was different.
Thus, one of the core ideas of mindful parenting is about accepting whatever is happening for our children or ourselves, without judging it or wishing it was different.
I don’t know about you, but there are many, many times each day when I wish something about my own parenting (such as my tendency to snap at my girls when they throw tantrums) or my daughters (their bickering, whining, and nagging come to mind) were very, very different. The reality is that I often do want things to be other than they are. I want to be a calmer, kinder parent, and I want them to be better communicators and problem-solvers.
At first glance, this does not seem to be a particularly “mindful” stance.
A few weeks ago, I was on a retreat as part of a year-long course I recently took on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. (For the record, the course meets in person in the Boston area and online for those of you around the world, and it’s fantastic. If you’re a mental health professional interested in integrating mindfulness into your practice, I highly recommend you check it out.) Anyway, we spent about 36 hours of the retreat in silence, during which time our goal was to meditate on whatever we were doing: sitting, walking, washing dishes, and eating.
At each meal, I tried to focus on eating slowly by chewing carefully and paying attention to the flavor, smell, and texture of each bite. This doesn’t come naturally to me; even before I had kids, I tended to shovel my food in as though a baby was crying or a toddler was nagging me to wipe her tushy, and once I became a mother, well, things just went downhill. If I wasn’t careful on the retreat, I quickly reverted back to my habit of speed eating, even though there wasn’t a kid in sight.
And then I remembered a tip I had read somewhere about how to eat more slowly: put down your fork between bites. As I thought about it, I realized that I can’t be fully present for any one bite if I’ve got one hand wrapped around a fork, poised to take the next one. It’s taken me a long time to fully understand this, and I’m still fully figuring it out, but what we’re doing with our bodies at any given moment really does influence how our brains are working (or not). Merely holding a utensil in my hand triggered my mind to think about what was coming next, which meant I wasn’t thinking about the bite I was working on.
I am absolutely honored to host Karen Maezen Miller on the blog today. Her writing never ceases to dazzle and inspire me.
They don’t make it past spring, the camellia flowers, but oh, what a beautiful spring. Their blooms appear in one energetic burst, when the winter’s color has dulled to gray. They arrive when it’s dark and cold, and you’ve ceased to believe in the promise of April or May. They pop up when time has frozen and you have turned blue, yes blue, with the sad certainty that nothing ever changes around here. You see a wink of color, and turn to see a lady dressed in red. She tosses off her beauty in the hour of its perfection, and the flowers carpet the ground where you walk.
Flowers are love’s perfect offering. They do not ask to be appreciated. They expect nothing in return. They just let go.
I don’t have to do anything in my garden and yet there are flowers appearing all the time: azalea, jasmine and wisteria in spring; water and day lilies in summer; camellia, bird of paradise, and orange blossoms in winter; floribunda roses and gardenias nearly all year long. Even the dandelions count. By some mysterious and unerring hand they all appear right on time. They seed the fruit. They feed the bees and butterflies. They sweeten the breeze. They are subtle and selfless, here and gone, appearing and disappearing, part and parcel of life’s perennial display. By this definition everything is a flower; by this lesson, all is love. Life is indeed love, continually pouring itself into itself—for my benefit and delight, I might add—but by my egocentric thinking I can be blind to the gift.
If I had to pick just one rule of parenting, it wouldn’t be “never wake a sleeping baby” or “just love your children enough and it will all work out.” It wouldn’t even be “there are no rules.” Rather, it would be this:
Learn how to pay attention, and what to pay attention to.
Many of us move through life assuming that we either have the ability to pay attention or we don’t, and if we don’t (or, more likely, if our energetic six year old child doesn’t) then we need to medicate ourselves (or our little one) back into paying attention.
Actually, most of us move through life without ever paying attention to whether or not we pay attention.
The reality is that paying attention is a skill we can cultivate. In fact, it is a skill we need to cultivate, especially once we become parents. Our brains just aren’t designed to pay attention to any one thing—they’re composed of about a billion little neurons, happily firing away, willy-nilly (yes, that’s a scientific term), with blatant disregard to whether or not we actually need to focus on something.
In addition, our minds are constantly scanning the environment for modern-day versions of saber-toothed tigers that might eat our babies, even in relatively safe environments. (Since I became a mother, I can spot a butter knife too close to the edge of a counter from a mile away.) To top it all off, almost everything in our lives, from smartphones that won’t stop beeping and flashing to curious kiddos who insist on peppering us with questions from the other side of the shower curtain, conspires against our ability to keep our attention on just one thing.